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Pick up an inexpensive packet of Fava seeds to sow every few weeks from early spring to early summer, and you’ll make your investment back hand-over-foot! The seeds will feed you, and the plants themselves will feed your soil and your compost bin.
Fava beans are easy to grow in your home garden. The seeds may be started early in spring, even in cooler climates. (Most other beans are sown later, when soil and air temperatures are much warmer.) Begin by softening seeds in a moistened paper towel over night. This will help speed up the germinating process by softening the outer casing of the seed. Then, either direct-sow the seed into the garden or plant them into a starting mix from which you will transplant them after they have put on a few inches of top growth.
Fava bean plants can take up a bit of room in the garden. Each plant will send up from one to about five stalks, each of which will form multiple flowers along the stem. These stalks can grow quite tall – from two to four feet, easily. To keep them shorter, some gardeners choose to pinch out the top growth to encourage bushier plants. Or, look for a cultivated variety that stays smaller to plant. However, if your plants get tall and begin to flop, tie and stake them to keep the pods off the ground.
As the flowers are developing, watch out for birds that love to pluck out the nectar-filled flowers, leaving behind stalks unable to form any tasty seedpods. Keep an eye out for pests like aphids, which love to feed on the nectar they exude, too. Ants travelling on the stems can be a warning sign; they will actually farm aphids on these plants!
When selecting Fava beans to grow and eat, be sure to look for seed in the edible seed area of a nursery – not the cover crop area. Seed sold specifically as cover crop is less likely to be a delicious culinary treat. However, both types of seed – cover crop and edible – provide the symbiotic gardening benefit that converts atmospheric nitrogen into a nutrient that feeds your soil and in turn helps your garden grow. This happens in visible bacterial nodules growing on the plant’s roots. Don’t worry though; these growths don’t hurt your Favas!
Once your plants form large, fat bean pods – a few months after planting, depending on time of year – you can begin harvesting the pods and eating the beans. It takes a bit of work to get to the tender interior, but it’s worth it! Plus, all of the bean casings are fantastic additions to your compost pile – as is the beanstalk and root once you have harvested all of the beans.
Using a pair of snips, remove the largest bean pods from the plant. Because the plant matures pods are different rates, you may be harvesting from the same plant over the course of several weeks. Then, you’re ready to begin preparing a meal with delicious, nutritious Fava beans.
I grew up in the south where traditional corn-lima bean succotash was a staple on every table through the summer. Here in the cool Pacific Northwest summers, Lima beans, corn and peppers come on much later than Favas and zucchini. So, I put this recipe together to fill the gap (and frankly, we like it better!)
• 1 Tablespoon olive oil
• 1 small sweet onion, diced
• 2-3 garlic scapes, diced (or 1-2 garlic cloves diced)
• 2-3 small zucchini, diced
• 3/4 cup shelled Fava beans
• 1 Tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
• Dash salt
• Several fresh grinds of black pepper
If your shelled Fava beans are larger than the size of a nickel, you may wish to remove the outer skins before creating your succotash. This outer casing can add an unpleasant taste and texture to your meal. But, the interior seed is delicious.
To remove the Fava outer casing: Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Drop in the shelled beans. Parboil for 1-2 minutes. Pour into a strainer. Rinse with cool water. Slip off the grey-green outer casing to reveal the deep, green inner seed. Compost the outer casings.
In a wok or large frying pan, warm the oil over medium-high heat. Then add the onion and garlic scapes. Sauté briefly until the onion becomes slightly translucent.
Add in the zucchini and cook until it just begins to glisten.
Add in the thyme, a few grinds of pepper and a dash of salt. Toss a few times.
Reduce heat to medium-low. Add in Fava beans and toss to warm. Adjust salt & pepper to taste.